I’ve promised on Facebook and Instagram a spooky short story for Halloween, but what I DIDN’T say is that the short story I’m sharing with you today is extended from a piece of flash fiction that was CHOSEN TO BE SHARED ON A PODCAST!
Holly’s teaching style resonates with me, and as a fangirl, it was so exciting get the email that I’d be included in this Halloween special.
So, BEFORE you read the extended version, you should really listen to the flash fiction performance on Alone in a Room with Invisible People, Episode 16. Mine starts at 1 hour 10 minutes, but so many wonderful stories are there! It’s a Halloween treat!
. . . . .
Did you do it?
What did you think about the how they made the intro suuuuuuuper creepy?
So, without further ado, a spooky short story….
. . . . .
Bloodline: The Cautionary Tale of Corazón Rose
Corazón Rose and her mother shared a nomadic existence for 15 years. In all that time, it never crossed Cora’s thoughts that they might be on the run. Her mother never told her the truth about her grandmother. Lavender Rose would look into Cora’s innocent, clear eyes and fall into the black memory when she’d found out and all the running began. One more day of waiting turned into one-more-year, all for one more of the carefree smiles and terror-free night’s sleep ignorance gifts. But, the fact remained that Cora’s mother didn’t have a last will and testament and Cora didn’t know to keep running.
On the seventh week and the third move of Cora’s new life traveling with her grandmother and the carnival, Cora awoke with a wet t-shirt on her face. The dry, New Mexico air cracked the inside of her nose causing a week’s worth of nosebleeds. Two days ago, Cora risked a food ration to slip to the library for an explanation. It surprised her to find out she wasn’t dying. It surprised her more that the results disappointed her.
Cora never had much with her mother, but she remembered having more than this. Or maybe she filled her belly with her mother’s raspy laugh, so she never felt hungry.
Today, Cora felt hungry.
An outsider’s belief might be that carnival workers are happy creatures, since they doled out fun for a living, but she hadn’t seen much happiness here. All personnel lived in tents completing Ringmaster Bernard’s gimmick of a vintage carnival. Cora’s red and brown striped tent butted up to the horses again. Since Cora’s arrival, Bernard amused himself with the sounds of Cora’s retching after he realized she couldn’t handle the morning manure smell. So, this morning Cora decided to amuse herself by throwing up inside Sandalwood’s stall, coating the leads Bernard would hold tonight with last night’s meager meal.
After washing up, she walked past crates coughing up props onto the dirt. Grandmother rifled through each one until she raised a jeweled box the size of a carburetor in the air careful to check each setting.
“What’s that?” Cora asked, hoping she didn’t smell of puke. Her grandmother was sensitive with smells. Sights, too. Cora had counted 29 times Grandmother had told her she’d been offensive and sent her away. Today, she’d taken extra care to make her hair bigger than normal, her clothes wacky, and her teeth clean to affect her breath. She had a big question to ask this morning and she wanted a particular answer.
“Nothing concerning you now.” Grandmother’s attention remained on the box, irritating Cora’s calm.
“Can I see your show tonight?” Cora rung her hands behind her back.
“No.” Grandmother dusted the box with her sleeve. “You’re not ready.”
“I’ve helped prepare every show for two months, cleaned every place an animal has been, and… Did you know it was Halloween? I thought I could dress up and cheer you on, you know, like a fangirl.”
Grandmother finally looked at Cora, still and silent. Similarities between the two were few. Cora asked the night Grandmother’s long, sharp fingernail tapped on the sedan window, waking the grieving girl, how she was to know that they were kin. Grandmother was blonde, pale, and straight where Cora was black, brown, and curvy. She wasn’t convinced until Grandmother unbuttoned her blouse and showed a tattoo of her mother’s face in gorgeous, saddening clarity. It was just as Cora remembered it from days before. Even the slight panic that always seemed to be in her eyes. If this woman wasn’t her kin, how could she have so fully captured her mother’s essence in the tattoo?
That night, as Grandmother breathed, it looked as if her mother breathed, too. Cora rushed out of the car. She needed to press her cheek against her mother’s one more time. Grandmother wouldn’t let her. Cora followed her anyway.
“So you think you’re ready?” Grandmother slinked closer. “What did your mother tell you I do?”
Cora took a deep breath. “I didn’t know about you.”
A flash of sadness deepened the lines on her grandmother’s face.
See, Cora thought. She could love me. She’s capable of it. Something like hope bloomed in Cora, spreading out from her core, but it was sticky and slow. Maybe that’s what you get when reanimated after death, Cora thought, a hope zombie.
Disregard returned home. “No.” Grandmother said, moving the box behind her lean frame. She turned to leave, but hesitated. The zombie stirred. “Cora? Do not, for any reason, come back to my tent today. As you mentioned, it’s Halloween, and I don’t need children bothering me.” With a flick of her hair, she was gone. Cora wouldn’t ask to see Grandmother’s performance again. It was useless.
She made it back to her tent before she cried. The hope that had spread through her body cooled to obsidian. She’d be in trouble for shirking her chores, but she didn’t care. She wasn’t sure she cared about anything anymore, including her grandmother’s permission.
By night fall. Cora had decided she was on her own, and she would make herself fine with that. Being on your own, Cora reasoned, meant doing what you wanted, no matter what anyone says. And tonight, she wanted to dress up and see a creepy show like a normal kid. She snuck back to the piles of crates and gathered items she could fashion into a costume. By the time the show started, dozens of stage hands never guessed that Cora—with her layers of black chiffon, dreaded hair, and charcoaled eyes—was the quite convincing harbinger of death.
Cora snuck through the back of an oversized tent, surrounding herself with a hundred visitors waiting to see what they’d gotten themselves into. She breathed in heavy tension and clammy anticipation until it was her own. Music blared, though Cora couldn’t locate speakers. Grandmother looked like an extreme version of herself. Her clothes fuller, her makeup thicker, and her hair wilder in long, dense sections. Cora shook away the thought that each slice shifted in its own direction, slow and purposeful like snakes in winter. Grandmother even looked taller than she was this morning. The toe of a ballet slipper, rather than a platform shoe, peeked out the hem of her skirt. The allusion had to be Cora’s position in the high-rise.
She had stolen a bag of popcorn and munched on the spoils, while reminding herself she didn’t care what her grandmother looked like or what her bones did. She was her only concern. She was her own comfort. She made her own rules.
Grandmother was an illusionist, and come to find out, an engaging one. Cora’s thoughts, however, wouldn’t let her be entertained. Because Cora hadn’t known. No one would tell her anything about her grandmother, her ancestry, her purpose here, nothing. As much as she loved her mother, Cora always knew she held secrets from her, too. What was it about her that she couldn’t be trusted? Hadn’t she proven herself? Was she not enough? All she wanted was a family, blood or not, someone to share a smile with and maybe a trouble or two. Why did Grandmother come after me in the first place if she didn’t want me in her life? In her gut, Cora believed that if she knew the answer to these questions, if she knew the secrets, she would know herself. She wouldn’t have to figure it all out moment by moment.
Anger filled Cora bottom up, first in her feet. Her toes grew cold and a chill in her veins reached for her heart, stopping the organ cold. Cora wiped an unwanted tear off her cheek, smearing the charcoal she used for her costume. She was tired of crying, tired of feeling every pain, tired of trying so hard. She dipped her head and closed her eyes, blocking out the performance and the people, silently building walls around her soul. She’d closed herself inside, sealing the bottom and the top, and for the first time since her mother died, she felt peaceful.
Sounds of the room came back to Cora, and she lifted her head.
Her grandmother stared straight into her eyes. She would have been afraid a moment ago, but now she felt nothing, even at the sight of a blood red stare. Cora’s hair moved without wind and a hissing tickled her skin.
“Now, you’re ready.” her grandmother’s glare was a startled flame. “It’s time for you to look in the box.”
Copyright © 2018 by Meagan Smith writing as Mea Smith. All Rights Reserved.